Minds Ahead calls for an asset-based approach to mental health in schools, in response to the Children’s Commissioner Report

report mental health in schools

The Children’s Commissioner released a report calling for additional mental health support in school and sets out six ambitions for every child. 

Minds Ahead believe that an asset-based approach toward mental health within schools is vital and responds to the aims flowing from the research within this report.

 We also value the recognition given to schools for the excellent work they do, often unseen, to support children and young people, as the Children’s Commissioner said in an incredibly powerful statement: 

"What I heard was inspiring. I have spoken to children who feel that their school has saved their lives and children whose school has given them the skills and direction to look forward to the future with confidence."

Too often there is a temptation to look at the negative, and Minds Ahead are ambitious for positive change, but it is important to build on the strengths, the assets that we already have. That is why our courses always have strengths-based, rather than deficit-based, models at their heart. It is uplifting, empowering, inspiring and motivates change to flourish in ways not imagined at the outset. 

Minds Ahead respond to the six ambitions set out in the report:

1. Ask, Listen, Communicate: decisions about children’s education need to be made with children, their families and other adults in their lives.  
We should do with, rather than do to. This fosters relationships, and trust and builds autonomy, which is vital when children and young people may feel otherwise out of control. 
2. Meet children where they are: all children receive support in school, through families of schools.
Minds Ahead only work with schools as they are. Their existing staff, culture and processes. This embeds mental health within the school so that it becomes a vital part of what the school is about, rather than an optional, and often ill-fitting, add-on. The Children’s Commissioner is right to call for mental health support within every school. We have supported hundreds of School Governors, Senior School Leaders of Mental Health and School Mental Health Specialists to be trained and qualified to fulfil these challenging roles.
3.  Exclusion as a trigger for intervention: children should receive a fantastic education, regardless of setting, always and receive targeted support following exclusion or suspension.
Minds Ahead have worked with schools serving challenging communities with a zero-exclusions policy. We are worried about this ambition. Exclusion should, where used as an absolute last resort, result in a support plan for the child and young person. However, we are aware that some schools see exclusion as the only way to justify additional support and resources. This should never be the case. If a child or young person needs support, they should receive it. Exclusion should never be a hoop to jump through.  
4.  Letting children be children: no child should feel that they need to miss school to support or care for their family.
Minds Ahead agree with this but recognises that young carers will still carry the emotional burden to school. Just because they are in the classroom does not mean that they not thinking about what is happening at home. We support the idea of giving young carers more protection under statutory frameworks. 
5.  Attendance is everyone’s business: school leaders have a relentless focus on attendance and work together with LAs to ensure children are supported to be in school and to attend regularly.
Children and young people need to feel included and having an inclusive school culture are vital to achieving this. The school has a vital role to play. However, we are concerned that additional Ofsted focus on this area via the school inspection framework could be counter-productive. 
6.  No more ‘known unknowns’: lack of information should no longer be the reason why children are not receiving a suitable education.
Minds Ahead agree and suggest that along with this ambition systems for accessing support are made simpler and more efficient so that a child and young person is able to access what they need. 
Minds Ahead works exclusively with schools and educational settings supporting staff to improve their mental health governance, strategy, leadership and policy for the benefit of the whole school community. We do this providing masters level qualifications in school mental health as well as working in partnership to strengthen mental health for all schools. 
Schools should never underestimate the power of being there for their students. I leave you with a quote from the report, by a girl in a mainstream secondary school:

“I have problems with depression and anxiety. The most help I had in this country was the school. They care about me, all the time talking to me.”

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